Door/drawer gaps in Euro-style cabinets

Americans need to apply the looser European standards to door and drawer gaps to avoid frustration when ordering these parts from other manufacturers. October 18, 2000

by Jon Elvrum

We manufacture European style cabinets, and work with very close tolerances. Our doors are ordered from manufacturers who specialize in door manufacturing only and are supposed to have all of the specialized automated equipment to make these doors to exact specifications.

We have been having a lot of problems getting our doors made to our measurements. When you are working with 1/8" tolerances between doors and drawer fronts, 1/16" differences between what we order and what we get can make a big difference. Also we have a lot of problems getting hardwood raised panel doors that aren't out of square, which also causes problems.

This is quite frustrating when you are trying to put out a quality product, and causes many scheduling delays from having to reorder defective doors.

Do you have any recommendations as to reputable door manufacturers? About 80% of our doors are vinyl wrapped, the rest hardwood raised panel.

A classic problem with converting European styles to American manufacturers is that there is an unnatural desire to be "perfect." The tolerances of 3mm (1/8") is not the tolerance one sees when in Europe.

The European cabinetmaker often works in a 4-5mm gap, which is considerably more forgiving. The 3mm gap which I have preached myself is a near "ideal."

If you are working on an 800mm tall box with 5 drawers, you are looking at a 157mm drawerfront, zero gap at the bottom of the stack and 3mm between the 5 drawers. This leaves 3mm at the top, beneath the counter. If you want a 4mm gap, you simply reduce the drawer head accordingly.

A more common American box would use a top drawer of 160mm - 32 (net 124mm with 4mm gap or 125 with 3mm gap). The main thing is the 3mm decision has always been arbitrary, and in Europe it is rarely followed.

Jon Elvrum, Director of Distribution and Sales at Ritter Manufacturing in Antioch California, is also a well known author and consultant to the cabinetmaking industry. He has written numerous articles on the 32mm cabinetmaking system and production woodworking in general.